The Marquis of Lansdown
observed, that there were two bills before the House for the relief of the Catholics of England, by placing them nearly on the same footing as the Catholics of Ireland. It was for the purpose of moving for the second reading of the first of those bills, namely, "a bill to repeal so much of the statute of William 3rd, as related to the administration of the oath of supremacy to persons voting at elections of members of parliament," that he now addressed their lordships. The greatest difficulty he experienced was in anticipating on what possible ground this measure could be opposed. It was necessary that their opponents should establish, either that Mr. Pitt and the Protestant government and parliament of 1793 were in error, when they admitted the Irish Roman Catholics to the enjoyment of the elective franchise, and to the eventual enjoyment of certain civil offices, or that circumstances attached to the Catholics of England which did not attach to the Catholics of Ireland, and which rendered the former incapable and unfit to enjoy those constitutional privileges which had been with propriety and safety communicated to the latter.—In reply to the latter objection, if it were made, he would ask whether, on the most deliberate view that could be taken of the condition and history of the Catholics of England, and of their uniform good conduct and peaceable demeanour, any thing appeared which could justify parliament in withholding the invaluable privilege of being represented in parliament, so necessary to the security of the British subject, and without which the British constitution could scarcely be called a blessing? He really 1477 did not know how to argue the subject. It was for those who thought there was something in the character of the English Catholics which rendered it dangerous to grant them what the Irish Catholics had so long enjoyed, to point out the danger. For himself, he was persuaded, that if there was any difference in the two classes of persons, it was (without meaning to cast any slur on the Irish Catholics) in favour of the Catholics of England. He knew it might be said, that the elective franchise had been, in many in stances abused in Ireland, that votes had been manufactured, and 40-shilling freeholders driven up in herds to the hustings. But not a small portion of the blame of those proceedings attached to the successive governments of that country; for, whenever a commodity was found to be marketable, it was not surprising that human infirmity should avail itself of the possession of that commodity for purposes of personal interest. He trusted, their lordships would not be told that the subject was new, and one to which they were unaccustomed; and that the proposition to place the English Catholic where the Irish Catholic was placed twenty or thirty years ago, was consequently one which it was difficult and hazardous to deal with. Nor, he hoped, would it be said, that the Catholics of England had not petitioned for this concession, and therefore that it was not necessary to communicate to them advantages which they had riot sought. He had always understood that when the privileges of the constitution were conferred on any class of his majesty's subjects, it was not for the exclusive benefit of that class, but for the benefit of the whole community. Therefore, although no petition had been presented from the English Catholics (and indeed, had he been consulted, he would not have advised them to present a petition for a measure so limited as the present), yet, if their lordships thought the measure right, he did not conceive that that was a ground on which it ought to be rejected. Their lordships ought especially to hesitate before they refused to place the Catholics of England on the same footing as the Catholics of Ireland, at a time when the intercourse between the two countries was every day increasing, and when the inhabitants of both were more closely assimilated in every respect, even down to the clothes they were, and the produce they consumed. 1478 It had been somewhere insinuated, that this bill would place the Catholics of England in a better situation than the Protestant Dissenters. If it were so, he would decidedly oppose it. But directly the contrary was the case. Even if the present bill were passed, the Protestant Dissenter might still be eligible to certain offices from which the Catholic would be excluded. The bill would not even place the Catholics of England on precisely as good a footing as the Catholics of Ireland, for the former would still remain exposed to the operation of the Test act, from which they could be relieved only by an annual indemnity bill.
§ Lord Redesdale
opposed the motion. To give the elective franchise was, he said, to give political power. The consequence of granting the Irish Catholics the elective franchise had been the creation of two interests at every election, Protestant and Catholic, in violent hostility to each other. He could never consent to any measure which had a tendency to overturn that Protestant establishment which every loyal subject was bound to maintain. Nothing should induce him to risk the sacrifice of a single point which he thought went to the conservation of that establishment. Let their lordships look at the preamble of the statute of William, which it was sought by this bill to repeal. The necessity of that statute, as a security to the Protestant establishment, was there unequivocally declared. In his opinion, the necessity was as great in the present, day as in the time of king William. As to the oath of supremacy, he denied that, by any existing law, it was distinctly enacted that that oath should be remitted to the Catholics of Ireland. The noble lord concluded by moving, that the bill be read a second time that day three months.
The Earl of Westmorland
said, it was with great satisfaction that he saw the claims of the Roman Catholics of England brought before parliament, divested of all considerations connected with Irish politics and Irish party. The excellent conduct of that body, during so long a period, entitled them to every concession which could be extended to them, consistently with the safety of the constitution. There was no argument which could be urged in favour of granting those privileges which had already been conceded to the Catholics of Ireland, which did not apply with double force to 1479 the propriety of conceding them to the Catholics of England. He was so far from thinking that the agitation of the Catholic question was calculated to do mischief, that he was persuaded it rather tended to tranquillize the public mind in Ireland. If the whole of the Catholic question, however, were granted to-morrow, he did not believe that it would have the slightest effect upon the peace of that country. He believed that the Catholics were in general a loyal body. It was said, that if this measure were carried, it would give the Catholics an influence in the deliberations of parliament; but such an influence was no more than so large a body of his majesty's subjects were entitled to. He had not altered his opinions as to the impolicy of granting further concessions to the Roman Catholics of Ireland; and it was for that reason that he supported the present measure, which went only to place the Catholics of England upon the same footing.
The Bishop of Norwich
said, that the general question involved in the bills now before the House had been so frequently discussed, that it would require little short of inspiration to suggest any new arguments in support of the propriety of concession, or even to give a new colouring to the arguments which had been already employed. Much as this question had been discussed, the result had not been such as might have been reasonably hoped for, from the liberal and enlightened spirit of the age; from the progress of intelligence in every part of the united kingdom; and from the more extensive diffusion of the mild and tolerant principles of Christianity, by means of various religious institutions, and especially the bible societies. It could not but be highly gratifying to every generous mind, to observe that those prejudices which once existed with regard to the unwise and unjust restrictions on our Catholic brethren bad been thrown off in every quarter, except in that quarter alone where they ought least to exist—because this was not a religious but a political question, and as such came rather within the province of statesmen than of divines. He should not, indeed, have presumed to trespass upon their lordships attention, if he had not felt himself called upon to embrace the present opportunity—the last, probably, which at his age he could expect to have—of protesting most strengly, in his own name, 1480 and in the names of many learned and excellent clergymen of his diocess, against the assertions contained in some of the petitions which had been recently laid upon the table. He protested against such assertions, because he was firmly persuaded that the security of the church of England, or of any Christian church, could never be endangered by acting upon Christian principles; and that the security of our civil institutions could never be endangered, by uniting the hearts and hands of all subjects of every denomination in the ties of gratitude and affection, which were the firmest bond of peace. He should probably be told, that these remarks had been made a hundred times before. Be it so. They were, nevertheless, extremely important, and could not be too often or too forcibly circulated, as long as men were to be found who, in defiance of reason and experience, of policy and justice, obstinately persisted in opposing all innovation, as they termed it, in church or state, who resisted all reform however moderate, or however much called for by public opinion, and who resolved to live and die under the old establishments. Such language, from whatever quarter it might come, was ill-suited to the present state of knowledge in the world, and in direct opposition to that active and progressive spirit of improvement, which had excited our own as well as other nations, and which he trusted no holy alliance would ever be able to arrest. Old establishments, however venerable from their antiquity—a quality of which he was far from wishing to speak with flippant disrespect—must bend to public opinion, for public opinion most assuredly would not bend to them; and laws, which might have appeared expedient and necessary 150 years ago, should not continue in force, when the reasons on which they were enacted, had ceased to exist, and their operation had become injurious and unjust. When every other art and science was so much advanced, was legislation, the most important science of all, to remain stationary, instead of keeping pace with the general improvement? That could never be; for every thing human must yield to the great law of change, the most powerful and uncontrollable of the laws of nature. The senseless cry of innovation had succeeded to the more noisy and wicked cry of "No Popery!" Happily for the peace of society, both these cries had become harmless and ineffectual; 1481 for there were very few in the middle ranks of life, and not many even in the lowest, who did not perfectly understand, that to these most dreaded innovations we were indebted for many of the greatest blessings which we enjoyed. The Revolution was an innovation; Christianity itself was a glorious innovation. The historian of the Roman empire informed us that in the reign of Valentinian, a heathen high priest pronounced an oration before that emperor, in which he warned him of the danger of innovation, and entreated him not to suffer the Gospel to be preached in Rome. "Reverend sire," (said the sacerdotal petitioner), "I beseech you in my old age to reverence our old institutions; these rites drove Hannibal from our walls; disturb not the repose of my declining years by the introduction of any innovation; suffer us to retain the undisturbed possession of a religion, which has flourished for so many years." The reasoning of this high priest was fully as conclusive as that of the christian high churchmen of the present day, who were alarmed at the bare mention of any innovation in church or state, however necessary or advisable it might be. Both the high priest and the high churchman seemed to have forgotten that a blind, doting, obstinate adherence to old establishments, resolutely opposed to all reform, was as weak and dangerous as a wild and irrational desire of change.—Within a short period of time, a remarkable change of public opinion had taken place, both at home and abroad, on the subject of religious as well as civil liberty; and he might now venture to assert, without fear of contradiction, that a very large majority of the members of the established church were decidedly in favour of Catholic emancipation. No petitions had recently been presented against the measure from London, Westminster, Southwark, or any of the populous and commercial districts. The great and well-informed body of the Protestant Dissenters had, highly to their honour, declared, in the most unequivocal terms, their desire of seeing all the penalties to which their Roman Catholic brethren were subjected abolished, If we turned to foreign countries, we should find that in Russia, Prussia, and he believed in Austria, the Protestants bad been lately admitted to those civil privileges, from which our Catholic brethren were excluded. In France, he had never heard of a single petition having been pre- 1482 sented from the Catholic clergy against the admission of Protestants to any civil situation of honour, trust, or emolument. The established clergy of England were the only body, the great majority of which, in the 19th century, openly avowed their intolerance. Against such a spirit of persecution and intolerance, said the right reverend prelate, I will never cease to raise my voice, "dum spiritus hos regit artus." It was the duty of every individual in a free state unequivocally to declare his sentiments; though he was aware, for he had himself known, by sad experience, how little the discharge of that duty would contribute to the ease of any clergyman of the established church, whose opinions might differ from those of the great body to which he belonged. That he might not incur the imputation of censuring men whose opinions were entitled to much more weight than his own, he would conclude the few observations which he had ventured to make, with a passage from one of the most learned and practically wise men who had ever sat on the bench of bishops—a prelate, who enjoyed the distinguished honour of being the personal friend of that enlightened, liberal, and magnanimous prince, William 3rd. He alluded to bishop Burnet, the great object of whose long and useful life, as well as that of king William, was to unite, in one great social and civil bond, all loyal subjects, on the sole ground of their tried allegiance and fidelity, without reference to their religious opinions. "We have lost many opportunities," said bishop Burnet, "since the Revolution, of healing our breaches; but, let us not suffer the present opportunity to slip from us, on account of the fears which are harboured by a few sour and narrow-minded men, who would close the door on conciliation, and make those breaches perpetual," He would only add, that two petitions had just been put into his hands, one from Norfolk, and another from some of the clergy of the diocess of Norwich, against granting any further concession to the Catholics. It was needless for him to say, that he hoped their lordships would turn a deaf ear to the prayer of these petitions.
The Bishop of St David's
said:—My lords, on the subject of the bills now before the House, it is my misfortune to differ so widely from my right reverend brother who spoke last; and I am so far from thinking it illiberal and uncharitable 1483 to oppose any further encroachments of the Church of Rome upon the Church of England; or to think and speak of that foreign Church in the language of our own Church Articles and Homilies; that I cannot suppress my reasons for the vote that I shall give this night against admitting Roman Catholics to offices of trust and profit, and to the elective franchise. My lords, the oath and declaration, which it is the object of these bills to repeal, were intended to exclude Roman Catholics from offices of trust and profit, because the principles of their Church were held to be inconsistent with the safety and tranquillity of the state. My lords, those principles are precisely the same now, as they were at the enactment of the oath and declaration; it is the boast of that Church that they are so. Persons, therefore, professing those principles are as inadmissible to offices of trust and profit now, as they were formerly. They are inadmissible to those offices, because they are incapable of the allegiance which is due from subjects to their Sovereign. My lords, they are incapable of that allegiance, because they are bound by a contrary allegiance to a foreign Sovereign.
My lords, the oath which one of these bills proposes, as a security for a Roman; Catholic's allegiance, is perfectly nugatory, because it is superseded and nullified by the solemn declaration of true obedience to the Pope, which he has already made, or which is implied in his submission to the Pope's supremacy—that supremacy, which they hold to be superior to the sovereignty of the realm. My lords, "the Romish Clergy," says Black-Stone, in his chapter of Treasons, "when they take orders, renounce their allegiance to their temporal sovereign, that being inconsistent with their engagements of canonical obedience to the Pope." By those engagements they are bound to oppose, to execrate, and, as far as in them lies, to extirpate every thing heretical, that is, every thing which is contrary to the religion of the Church of Rome.
My lords, this principle of extirpation is not a dormant and obsolete principle. It is at this moment, in Ireland, in full arid active operation. We have been told very lately on the best authority, that the leaders of the sanguinary bands, which infest that country, declare boldly and candidly, that their object is, to drive the heretics out of the country, and to take 1484 their property. My lords, the most effectual way to tranquillize Ireland is, not to encourage popery, but to strengthen the hands of Protestantism, and at the same time to afford that protection to converted priests, which was granted to them formerly, which is absolutely necessary to the free exercise of their will; and without which they are in danger of assassination in one country, or of destitution in the other. It is indeed to be hoped, that another session of parliament will not be suffered to pass without reviving that humane and beneficial act, which expired on the 24th of June, 1800, by which a provision was made for the subsistence of destitute clergymen, who had renounced the errors of the Church of Rome, and were conformed to the Church of England.
I object, then, my lords, to the admission of Roman Catholics to offices of trust and profit, because the principles of their Church are contrary to the allegiance which is due from subjects to their, sovereign, and inconsistent with the safety and tranquillity of the state. The grant of the elective franchise would be attended with still greater inconsistencies and mischiefs. I need not remind your lordships that parliament is convened by the writ of summons expressly for the defence of the kingdom and of the Church; not of the kingdom only, but of the kingdom and the Church. A representative of a Roman Catholic district, if true to his constituents, must, instead of defending the Church of England, be the advocate of measures most adverse to the king's prerogative, and most hostile to the Protestant religion. The elective franchise has been very injurious to the peace of Ireland, and productive of many ill consequences, especially by the sub-division of property, which it has led to. It could not, indeed, do so much mischief at present in England, on account of the comparative paucity of Roman Catholics here. But the grant of this important privilege would add greatly to their numbers, activity, and influence. And why should we, in defiance of the constitution, and of experience, put the tranquillity of England to such a hazard, and expose it, in any degree, to the degrading and demoralizing consequences which have resulted from this fatal boon in Ireland? For these several reasons, I shall give my vote against both the bills now before the House.
The Lord Chancellor
said, he could never be induced to give his consent to these concessions, unless he were satisfied that they could be granted consistently with the interests of the public. He had long had the happiness of knowing the right reverend lord opposite (bishop of Norwich), and no man could entertain a higher respect for him than he did; but he could not understand how that right rev. lord could reconcile with his duty, the sentiments which he had uttered that night. He was so far from agreeing with the right rev. lord, that the opposition to the Catholic claims had diminished in this country, that he was satisfied it had greatly increased within a recent period. He would not impute to the parties who had brought in these bills, that they had intentionally introduced them at a period of the session when it was impossible that they could be fully discussed, but certainly, if he had been a friend to those claims, he should have avoided bringing them forward at such a time. Such a proceeding was not consistent with the dignity of the House; and, if it were for that reason alone, he should vote that these bills be read a second time that day three months. If, however, their lordships should think differently, it might be necessary to call their attention to the nature of these bills. They were, in fact, one of the most extraordinary pieces of legislation he had yet seen. If it was meant to absolve Roman Cotholics from taking the oath of supremacy, why was not this stated in the preamble of the bill? If it was meant to weaken the prerogatives of the Crown, which he would never consent to do, by liberating Roman Catholics from taking the oath of supremacy, why was this not recited in the preamble? He would never admit that any man could be said to bear a true and faithful allegiance, who denied the supremacy of the Crown. If these bills were brought forward at a proper period of the next session, he had no objection to their discussion; but he could never give his consent to a measure of so much importance, at a period when it was impossible that it could be fully debated. When it was proposed to repeal the 7th and 8th of William III., it was not considered that other acts of parliament must be repealed, before that repeal could take effect. The right rev. prelate had culled the Revolution an innovation. It was the first time he had ever 1486 heard it so called. The Revolution was, not an innovation; hut a restoration of the constitution of this country. Unless some distinction were maintained between the established Church, and those who dissented from it, there would be no toleration in this country. If we looked, to the state of this country between the Reformation and the Revolution, we should, find, that there was a constant squabble between the established Church and the Dissenters. It had been well said by bishop Hoadly, that the Reformation would have been no blessing without the Revolution. It was the Revolution which had established the union between the Church and the State, by giving a supreme head to the Church. With respect to the policy of concession, his mind had been long made up. It was too late for him to alter his opinions; and they could never be affected by any opinions which could be opposed to them. He should vote for the bill being read that day three months; because he could not but feel that the House was treated with indignity, in being called upon, at that period of the session, to pass a measure, which the advocates of Catholic Emancipation had never proposed during the twenty years that the general question had been agitated.
§ The Earl of Harrowby
said, that the bill of which his noble and learned friend chose to complain, had been for two or three months before the other house, of parliament; and the pressure of business there was the only cause that it had not come earlier before their lordships. He would admit with the learned lord (Redesdale), that the act of the Irish parliament in 1793, in not limiting the grant of the elective franchise to the higher order of the Catholics, had been productive of many of the evils under which Ireland at this day laboured. The effect of the general admission of all the small freer holders to that privilege, had been the great subdivision of land into very small portions, so as to give votes; and that had caused much distress and great immorality amongst the lower classes. He did not, however, object to granting this class of persons the elective franchise as Roman Catholics: but he objected to it, because the great portion of them were paupers, and because it gave political influence without property; which was liable, under such circumstances, to great abuse. But, could the same objection be 1487 made to the Catholics in England? Was their condition, with respect to property, or conduct, or general loyalty, such, that they ought to be continued in a situation inferior, not only to all their Christian brethren in this country, but to their own brethren in Ireland? The noble lord then adverted to the observation of the lord chancellor, as to the allegiance of those who refused to take the oath of supremacy, and contended, that the most distinguished loyalty was perfectly consistent with the conscientious refusal of the Catholics to take that oath. The noble lord then proceeded to advert to the singular anomaly in our laws, which admitted a Catholic general or admiral to combat, at the head of armies and fleets, against the enemies of their country, and yet refuse, them the privilege of voting as 40s.-freeholders. Let their lordships recollect what had been done in Ireland. In 1792, the Catholics of Ireland petitioned to be admitted to the elective franchise with a higher qualification than was required from Protestants. That petition was rejected by an immense majority—and what followed? Why, in the very next year, whether influenced by lights from above, or by meteors which blazed around, he would not say, but the same parliament granted, not only what the Catholics had asked in the preceding year, but they gave the elective franchise to all Catholic freeholders, with the same qualification, as to amount, as Protestants. We were not now, happily, in the same situation as Ireland then. Whatever was granted would be received as a boon; and, as such, he would in treat their lordships to accede to the present measure.
The Earl of Liverpool
said, he would give his support to the bill for granting the elective franchise to Roman Catholics in England, but he would object to the bill, respecting the eligibility of English Roman Catholics to certain offices,—at least, to its further progress at present, and in the particular shape in which it was introduced. The noble lord went on to contend, that the present was a question which must be viewed on its own grounds. Without going into the merits of what had been already granted to the Catholics, in Ireland, he would say, that we could not now without an imperious necessity, undo what had been done by the Irish parliament in that respect; he would, however, contend, that there was 1488 not that anomaly in the case which was stated; but if there were, that would be of itself no argument in support of the present measures. We had laws and customs in Scotland totally different from those in England; but it did not thence follow, that what was right in one country must be equally right and applicable in another. The question before their lordships, as it affected England, should be viewed without reference to what was or was not the law in other parts of the empire. His noble friend who spoke last had alluded to the refusal of the Irish parliament to accede to the petition of the Catholics in 1792, and to their great concessions in the next year. He (lord L.) looked upon that refusal as most unfortunate; for it led, in the next year, to granting all the concessions, and to giving to a large portion of the Catholics a political influence, out of all proportion great, when compared with their property. With respect to the bills before the house, he had no objection to the first. The Catholics of this country were a highly respectable body, and he freely admitted their uniform loyalty. He had no objection to admit them to the possession of the elective franchise, taking their oath of fidelity, and. not requiring the oath of supremacy. As to the second bill, he did not oppose the object in view, but he objected to the manner in which that object was sought. The bill proposed to make the Roman Catholics eligible to all offices, with certain exceptions, without taking those oaths which Protestants were required to take. Now he objected to this. He wished the hill to point out the particular offices to which Catholics were to be rendered eligible, and then their lordships would know exactly what it was they were called upon to grant, for this reason, and as there was not now sufficient time to modify the second bill, he would oppose it in its present shape, and would therefore suggest the delay of it until the next session.
said, he would support the first bill, taking it for granted that it would not extend to Scotland. With respect to the second bill, he cordially admitted its principle; but if it went into a committee, he would move a clause to prevent its application to Scotland. His object was to prevent what he considered a breach of the articles of Union.
The Marquis of Lansdown
, in reply, said, he would consent to defer the second 1489 bill until next session, in order to give time for its full consideration. As to the first, he had, he confessed, heard nothing in the shape of argument against it. He had, indeed, heard anin sinuation that the several millions of his majesty's subjects who conscientiously objected to the oath of supremacy were not constitutionally loyal. To this he would answer, that if he held such an opinion, he would not be deterred by any motive whatever from endeavouring to withdraw all political power from such disloyal hands. But the learned lord on the woolsack, who objected to the loyalty of those who refused to take particular oaths, had on a former occasion, admitted the very principle against which he now contended. In a bill which had passed their lordships' House, and to which the learned lord had made no objection—it was stated, that certain oaths there prescribed were a sufficient test of loyalty, without requiring those which were generally required as such,
The Earl of Liverpool
wished his objection to the second bill to be distinctly understood. He did not object to its principle, but to its not specifying the particular offices to which the Catholics were to be made eligible.
§ The House divided: Contents 43. Proxies 30–73. Not-contents 41, Proxies 39–80. Majority against the bill 7.